Former Manitoba priest sued for alleged sexual exploitation

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A former dean of the Anglican diocese of Brandon is being sued for allegedly sexually exploiting a former parishioner.

According to a CBC story published Wednesday, October 4, a woman (unnamed by CBC because of the nature of the allegations) alleges in a September 19 statement of claim that Nigel Packwood “exploited and misused the power, authority and discretion conferred upon him by the Diocese to gain access to confidential information about [the plaintiff] and her circumstances and to initiate and maintain illicit intimate sexual contact with, and to manipulate, control and sexually exploit [the plaintiff] for his own personal sexual gratification.”

The diocese is also named in the lawsuit, which alleges it failed to investigate and evaluate Packwood’s background and suitability as a priest.

Packwood, the document alleges, “initiated and maintained” a sexual relationship with the female parishioner after she began individual counselling sessions with him in 2001. He was serving as a priest in an Anglican church in western Manitoba at the time.

The woman alleges Packwood hugged her during counselling sessions, and that these hugs progressed to touching and fondling. He began to pressure her into having sex with him, according to the document. In 2003, he allegedly forced her into having sex in the sanctuary of the church, and also “sexually assaulted her on the church pew.”

In 2007, the document states, a relative of another woman alleged Packwood had “sexually harassed and assaulted” her, and a complaint was brought to the church vestry. It adds that the complaint caused a split in the congregation between those who supported Packwood and those who opposed him.

The matter was brought to the attention of the then-bishop of Brandon, James Njegovan. According to the court document, Njegovan “visited the congregation in an effort to restore relations, but did nothing to investigate the allegations.” It continues,“The Bishop allowed Rev. Packwood to stay in his post as Rector of the Church and took no steps to improve Diocesan oversight of Rev. Packwood.”

Reached by the Anglican Journal Friday, October 6, Njegovan disputed this account. In fact, the diocese investigated Packwood, he said, calling together a committee mandated to look into sexual misconduct allegations. But the committee was severely hindered by the fact that the allegations in this case were coming only from a third party; the complainant herself, Njegovan said, refused to come forward.

“We asked the complainant—tried to ask the complainant—to actually make a complaint herself rather than deal with it through a third party, and informed her of her right to go to the police as well. And then nothing more came of that…there was no sort of support from her side of things to carry on,” he said. “If the party that was involved wanted to lodge a complaint, we were willing to hear it. But it was very difficult even to get her to correspond with me.

“We did follow it through as much as we could at that time.”

Njegovan said that Packwood wrote a letter of apology to the complainant, on his own initiative.

The diocese, he said, also sent a letter to Packwood recommending training in appropriate boundaries. When asked whether the diocese took steps at the time to make sure he had done this, he said it had not.

According to the document, Packwood allegedly sent the woman named in the lawsuit sexually suggestive text messages and nude photos of himself, and pressed her into having sexually explicit phone conversations.

“Packwood was controlling and he dominated [the plaintiff] psychologically and sexually,” it alleges, using “manipulation to entrap and isolate” her.

In 2015, after the woman had moved twice, she began to realize that the relationship “had been a sexually exploitative and abusive one in which her religious faith and her trust in him as a priest and counsellor had been grossly manipulated and betrayed by him to further his own selfish interests at her expense,” the document alleges. In 2016, she made a formal complaint of clergy sexual misconduct about Packwood to the bishop of the diocese, William Cliff.

Packwood’s lawyer declined to comment on the matter to the CBC, on the grounds that it is before the courts. He said a statement of defence would be filed on behalf of his client within the next two weeks, however.

Cliff denied the lawsuit’s allegations that the diocese knew about Packwood’s alleged wrongdoings. Cliff, who was consecrated bishop in March 2016, told the CBC he was “horrified” when the parishioner approached him about Packwood. “I asked for his resignation and he resigned, and then he renounced his ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada,” Cliff said.

According to the statement of claim, the woman and her husband confronted Packwood about his behaviour in the presence of the bishop. Packwood, “sat looking down, avoided eye contact and said nothing in response,” the document states. It adds that “immediately thereafter,” Packwood resigned from his position as dean and rector and relinquished his exercise of ministry.

In an email to the Anglican Journal, Cliff said that because the matter was before the courts, he couldn’t comment further. He did include, however, a letter sent to the parishes of the diocese Tuesday, October 3. The letter notifies the clergy and people of the diocese of the statement of claim. “As many of you know, I asked Mr. Packwood to resign in August 2016 and I required that he renounce his ministry…when the complaint was made to me,” it adds.

The letter also states that the diocese intends to file a statement of defence and has contacted its insurer.

Packwood’s departure in August 2016 is the subject of two letters, one from the wardens of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Brandon, Man., and the other from Cliff, posted to the Facebook page of the Anglican Parishes of South Parkland, in Dauphin, Man., that month. In the first, the wardens say they are “stunned by the sudden resignation of our beloved Dean Nigel” and are “unaware of the circumstances that precipitated such action.” They give thanks for Packwood’s “gentle and caring spirit, his forthright witness and inspired teaching.”

In the second letter, Cliff refers to a complaint having been made against Packwood and Packwood’s relinquishment of ministry, but adds that he is unable to provide details, “both as a matter of employment law and privacy legislation.”

Cliff’s letter notes that many of its readers “are close to Nigel…and…will feel keenly the upset and pain that all are feeling now.” He adds that he has assigned pastoral care and supervision to Nigel and his family.

Packwood became dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in 2014. His service with the Anglican Church of Canada included at least one term as a member of Council of General Synod, to which he was named in 2004. He also served in the Partners in Mission and Eco-justice Committee of General Synod.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional information from the statement of claim and from an interview with James Njegovan, former bishop of Brandon.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

1 COMMENT

  1. I wish the Anglican Journal would not publicize all these miss adventures of the clergy,it really does not help the mission of the Church.When I read the Anglican Journal it is all about politics,and does not offer anything spiritual,or positive information about the Church.or the bible.I think I will subscribe to the Anglican Planet again.

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